People charged with a crime must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is a much higher standard than most people think. Reasonable Doubt is not a mere possible doubt, because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. Rather, it is a feeling (after you have compared all the evidence) of “abiding conviction”. Abiding Conviction is a strong, lasting (permanent) belief that something is true, or that person is guilty.
I represent adults and juveniles who have been charged with a crime in San Joaquin County. This includes cases filed in Stockton, Tracy, Lodi and Manteca. Most all criminal case end up resolving in a plea bargain. I have heard that only about 5% of the cases charged ever actually go to trial. Thus, a good criminal defense attorney must be a good negotiator, this is where my past business experience comes in very handy.
Phases of Criminal Trial
Felony Arrests must be based on probable cause. While there is no simple test to define probable cause, the police must rely on what they believe to be good information. Misdemeanor Arrests can only be made for crimes which occur in the presence of the person making the arrest, or with a warrant.
California law allows the police to hold someone for up to 72 hours after the arrest, (unless it is on a weekend or court holiday).. For example, if you are arrested on a Thursday before a holiday weekend, you can spend up to four or five days in jail before you see a judge. To find out when the first appearance will take place, you can call the booking information line at the jail, or the arresting agency.
Plea Bargains can be good, but of course some are not. You are never obligated to accept an offered plea bargain. Plea bargaining is a process whereby the defense attorney negotiates with the district attorney to obtain the best possible plea for his client. Sometimes, the judge may be involved in the plea negotiation by speaking to the attorneys in an "in chambers" conference. Typical plea bargains included, making a plea to one charge, while the others get dismissed, or making a plea to a lesser charge, or agreeing to a lesser punishment. Pleas are often more about the "amount of time" to be served by the person making the plea. If a person is charged with a crime that carries a penalty of 25 years, and the offer is plea to this lesser charge and we will guarantee that you only serve 7 years, it is an awful powerful incentive to "take the deal" or "make the plea" even if a person has a good chance of winning at trial. One never knows what will happen at a trial and sometimes it is just not worth it to the person to do an extra 18 years if there is even the slightest possibility that they could loose at trial.
I tend to view readiness hearings as a second pre-trial. Basically, at this point, everyone is supposed to be ready to go to trial. This means, subpoena are served (witnesses are notified of the court date and time), all information that will be used at trial is to be disclosed to the other party.
Pre-trial motions are important tools for criminal defense attorneys. They can force the dismissal of charges, or put pressure on the prosecutor to change a previously held position. Some examples of pre-trial motions are: 1. Suppress Evidence; 2. Dismiss ( Penal Code section 995); 3. Speedy Trial; 4. Sever Counts; 5. Compel Discovery; 6. Strike Counts
A trial begins with the calling of the parties to come and be heard and selection of a jury if one has been requested. Each party is entitled to an opening statement by his/her attorney, limited to an outline of what each side intends to prove. This is followed by the presentation of evidence by the prosecution which is then followed by the defense evidence, and then by rebuttal evidence by the prosecution. At the conclusion of all evidence each attorney can make a closing argument which can include opinion and comment on evidence and legal questions. If it is a jury trial, the judge will give the jury a series of instructions as to the law of the case, based on "jury instructions" submitted by the attorneys and approved, rejected, modified and/or added to by the judge. Then the jury retires to the jury room, chooses a foreperson and decides the factual questions. If there is no jury, the judge will determine legal issues and decide factual questions and give a judgment. A jury will judge the factual issues and decide the verdict based on the law as given in the instructions by the judge. Final verdict or judgment usually concludes the trial, although in some criminal cases a further trial will be held to determine "special circumstances" acts which will increase the punishment or whether the death penalty should be imposed. Throughout a trial there may be various motions on legal issues, some of which may be argued in the judge's chambers. In most criminal cases the exact punishment will be determined by the judge at a hearing held at a later time.
At a later time, after the verdict, the person (if they were found guilty) will be sentenced. The prosecution normally argues for the court to impose as much time as the law allows, and the defense attorney argues for the least amount of time, or no no time with the person being put on "probation". Sentencing laws can be quite complex and there is often a lot of argument made by the attorneys as to the proper amount of time. The court normally will get a probation/parole report with their recommendation on what the sentence should be. The court, after considering all these arguments will decide the punishment for the crime (unless of course the defendant has negotiated a plea deal and everyone has agreed on the sentence in advance).